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The Northland Challenge: Security, service and globalization

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Wednesday, October 15, 2014

UPDATED: Oct. 17, 2014

Security, service and globalization. This is my last blog post from Maine for a little over a week. Tomorrow I’m boarding a bus, a plane and another plane on the way to Entebbe, Uganda, where I’ll join 27 others in the Northland Challenge—23 employees of Northland Controls and 5 others, like I, who work in the industry in other roles.

Northland Controls is a global systems integration company that I’ve written about many times. Here’s a link to their home page. And here’s a blog I wrote a while ago about successful systems integrators. Scroll down to find the part about Northland.

So what’s the Northland Challenge?

On first inspection it looks like an extreme team-building exercise. The group is broken up into teams of two. Every morning each team will be given a destination and a (paper) map, and some “challenge points”—places or points of interest—to locate during the day. Over the course of a week we’ll caravan across Southern Uganda and into Rwanda.

So, there’s definitely a team-building odyssey element to the Challenge, but at its core, the Northland Challenge is really an exercise in how to thrive as a worker and a business in today’s global economy.

Globalization is not something that’s just happening, it’s here, says Northland CEO Pierre Trapanese. If you want to be really good at doing business today, you need to take the time to understand other people’s points of view, their history, their cultures, and their infrastructure (understanding building codes and power requirements is particularly important in security.)

In essence, to go global, you need to understand the local.  

The Challenge, Trapanese says, is about “breaking down stereotypes, overcoming our fears of the unknown, and getting out of our shells to work with locals to find our way from one end of their country to the other without the use of technology.”

This year’s trip to Uganda and Rwanda is the third Northland challenge. In 2010, the group “raced across India in Tuk Tuks,” and in 2012 the challenge involved 4x4s and the Caucuses Mountains.

This year, the challenge has another, very important component: service.

“We are challenging ourselves to go a step further, to leave behind for the people we encounter an opportunity to accelerate their economic development and to thrive as individuals and as a community,” Trapanese said.

Specifically, Northland Controls is raising money to bring electricity to a part of Rwanda that has none. Working with San Francisco-based Firelight Foundation and a local installer in Rwanda, Northland is funding the installation of solar panels for 25 homes, a community center and a school.

Importantly, the solar panel project is designed to be a self-sustaining enterprise that will continue to bring electricity, jobs, and opportunity to the community.

This is the way it will work: A local provider will install the solar panels in 25 homes that currently used kerosene for power. Those families will pay the local solar provider a monthly fee equal to what they would have paid monthly for kerosene. After a certain period of time, the local provider will be able to install more panels in more homes, continuing to build an account base and recurring monthly revenue. It’s very similar to the alarm monitoring business model actually.

I’ll have more details about the solar panel projects in the next couple of days. But here’s some important information for you now.
Northland employees have raised about $35,000 and Northland has provided $10,000. You can help by donating any amount to the cause.

Here’s a link to the fund raising site .

More from the road tomorrow.

Women and security technology

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Wednesday, May 7, 2014

I’m here at PSA-TEC in Westminster, Colo., where today I had a chance to catch up with Christine Lanning, president of systems integration firm IST.

Christine and her husband Andrew (CEO) founded IST, a PSA Security owner, in 1998. Here’s a story I wrote about the company a couple years ago.  This year, Christine was honored as one of this year’s Women’s Security Council 2014 Women of the Year.

IST just finished moving its headquarters to a new facility that they own, (and saving 30 percent owning rather than leasing, thanks mostly to favorable conditions for an SBA loan.)

It was a year-long transition for IST to deal with permits and build out the new headquarters. “That meant we were without a demo or training space [in house] for a year,” she said.

Christine said they didn’t realize how much they missed having those capabilities in house, for business and training, of course, but also because she’s a techy.

I asked Christine why she got interested in technology.

Her interest started early. Technology was something that was promoted and valued in her home as a child, she said. “Our weekend jaunts were to Radio Shack where we’d get circuit boards to solder LED lights to.”

In high school Christine was the only girl in an elective electronics class.

Christine has an undergraduate degree in business and a Master’s degree in IT. At grad school in Hawaii, she was one of three women out of 50 students in the class.

Christine met Andrew when they were both working at an alarm company in Hawaii. They left that alarm company to start IST. Christine ran the business side, until as the company grew, it became clear that the company techs didn’t understand IT—a necessity for IST, which always did systems integration. “In 2004, I took over operations. I still ran administration and accounting, but I was really pushing that IT knowledge to the staff."

She’d sit the staff down for “lunch and learns" regularly. “I’d have discussions with the staff about IT: What does ARP mean? Trace RT? How do you ping a device? We had conversations about how to do things.”

And she’d go out in the field and teach techs to mount cameras, program devices in the field, patch systems, configure servers.

Is her teaching style different from a guy tech? Perhaps. She describes her approach as collaborative. She may be the boss, but “what I’ve found is that people really respond when you talk to them as a peer.”

As I’ve written many times in this space, there’s a dearth of women in the security industry, but only a small percentage of the women in security have either a technical role or work closely with technicians and engineers. That may be starting to change however. Women are beginning to be welcomed—even recruited—into those roles, at least among the smartest integrators.

While Christine and I were talking in the lobby of the Westin Westminster, we saw Bethany Taylor, who I learned from Christine, is the director of operations for Dakota Security. She oversees the engineering group at Dakota. And, after the interview I ran into Kirsten Klokis, who works for Northland Control Systems. Kirsten came to Northland out of college and is learning all aspects of the business, including spending time in the field with the technicians.

SIA is actively working to get young people interested in technical entry level jobs in the security industry. It's launching a security degree program at a community college in New Jersey next year. And, SIA, ISC West and the Women's Security Council are creating a scholarship for a woman to attend the college program. Here's that story. Asked where else the industry should look for women who may be interested in security, Christine Lanning suggested women with a military background.

"They have great training, understand structure, and are used to working in a male-dominated environment," she said.

SIA, N.J. college to launch security degree program

Goal is to develop work-ready college grads, expand program nationwide
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01/21/2013

ALEXANDRIA, Va.—In an effort to increase the number of well-qualified job candidates for security integrators and manufacturers, the Security Industry Association is working with Mercer County Community College to launch a new security systems and technology degree progr

Leading an integration company: Tips and stories at PSA-TEC 2012

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Wednesday, May 16, 2012

I arrived late in the afternoon yesterday in Westminster, Colo. for one of my favorite events of the year, PSA-TEC.
 
The conference,  which started on Sunday and runs through Friday, was well underway when I arrived. Lisa Cole Miller, PSA Security Network marketing director said attendance is up about 10 percent over last year with more than 65 integrator companies here. (Some of those companies send up to 10 employees.) In addition, there are consultants, end users, and more than 40 vendors exhibiting on a show floor here.

“When you think about it, it’s a bargain,” Miller said, “For $500, you get breakfast and lunch, four days of classes, a trade show and parties.”

I arrived in time for PSA Security CEO Bill Bozeman’s presentation “What every integrator needs to know about being an effective executive.”

This class is part of the PSA Leadership Institute, which PSA launched in October at the PSA Convention in Puerto Rico. Here’s a story with details about the program.

It was the end of the day and Bozeman spoke for more than an hour about the highlights of the business book “The Effective Executive,” which was written 40 years ago by Peter Drucker.

I’m not one for long presentations—but Bozeman is a good speaker. Ever hear an engaging preacher give a good sermon? He’s got a little bit of a preacher’s cadence, and he tells some pretty funny stories too.

There were about 50 integrators and a few vendors in the room for his presentation. Bozeman’s clearly taken to heart one of Drucker’s tenets: “if you’re going to call a meeting, make if effective.”

Highlights of the talk included:

—“Manage yourself.” To lead you’ve got to show discipline—show up on time, have passion for what you’re doing.” Bozeman told a story about visiting a PSA member who’s business wasn’t going well. Bozeman said he was not surprised that business was bad when he visited the office.

“The shades were drawn, there was no light, the owner was walking around [hunched over, with his hands on his forehead, looking like the sky was falling]. And the employees were doing the same thing—walking around like zombies. It was the most depressing place I’ve ever seen.”

—Drucker said he never, in 45 years, came across a single, natural executive who didn’t have to learn how to be an effective executive. It’s something you need to work on.

—Identify company objectives, how you spend your time, and don’t let people waste your time. Focus on the positive and motivating your people.

Pierre Trapanese, owner, Northland Control Systems, as an example of effective executive. Trapanese (who will be speaking at the conference today and who spoke at TechSec in 2010,  bought a small integration company “that needed  a lot of work” Bozeman said and turned it into a fast growing company.

“Through leadership and vision, he’s grown that company beyond what [anyone] thought was possible,” Bozeman said.  Recently, Trapanese chose an annual goal for the company. “This year we’re going to have fun,” is what he said, according to Bozemen. “He’s got people knocking down his doors wanting to work there, and he doesn’t pay the highest salaries in the areas.”

—Manages to peoples’ strengths, and surround yourself with people who have strengths that you don’t possess.

—Veto hiring anyone with substance abuse problems or who’s dishonest in the least.
  
—Read the fine print, hire legal counsel.
—“Don’t take pride in being King Kong… become more visionary and less the doer.”

Time to head over to the conference. There’s an M&A panel at 8, followed by a panel of successful integrators  and fast-growing integrators, a panel on market drivers, and one on social media. I’ll have more tomorrow.